The latest edition of the Olympic Games is almost here (who else do you know who gets to live through two different Summer Olympics at age 5?), so what better time to hand out some figurative medals to states for K-12 student learning success? A new Harvard study by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann sheds some helpful light on trends in Achievement Growth among nations and states.
The authors examine gold-standard test results of 4th and 8th graders to see where the United States’ progress from 1995 to 2009 ranks among 49 nations and how 41 individual U.S. states with enough data stack up against each other from 1992 to 2011. The good news? American students cumulatively picked up nearly a year’s worth of additional skills learned in math, science and reading, with stronger gains at the earlier grade level. The not-so-good news is we’re stuck in the middle of the pack:
Students in three countries–Latvia, Chile, and Brazil–improved at an annual rate of 4 percent of a std. dev., and students in another eight countries–Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia, and Lithuania–were making gains at twice the rate of students in the United States. By the previous rule of thumb, gains made by students in these 11 countries are estimated to be at least two years’ worth of learning. Another 13 countries also appeared to be doing better than the U.S.
I guess you could sum up American educational progress over the past 15 years with the word so-so. But the more fascinating part of the report to me is the comparison of 41 states who have participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) since it started in 1992. The authors of the Harvard report seized the Olympic spirit and handed out “medals” to the three states that have shown the biggest learning gains over the past two decades. And they are:
- Maryland (Gold)
- Florida (Silver)
- Delaware (Bronze)
Inquiring minds want to know… Do they get to play the Maryland state song while the Governor stands on a podium? I’m not sure how these things are supposed to work. More importantly and more seriously, though, what is the secret of the Old Line State’s success? I get Florida’s lofty finish, which this new redefinED piece by Matt Ladner helps to explain. Delaware and Maryland someone is going to have to explain.
As the United States rated 25th out of 49 on this survey, my own home state of Colorado finished 20th out of 41 — putting us nearly smack dab in “the middle of the middle.” Frankly not too much to get terribly excited about. A few other key interesting findings from Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann:
- Southern states — the targets of “energetic political efforts to enhance school quality” — fared much better than their Midwest counterparts;
- A very strong connection exists between a state’s overall improved test scores and its ability to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged students, suggesting that reforms by and large are not leaving children behind; and
- No statistically sound link was found between how much a state increased per-pupil spending and how much students improved NAEP test scores.
As you watch any of the Olympic events, I hope you remember not only the three states that have excelled in improving student learning but also that there are as many American students currently on waiting lists to get into charter schools as would “fill seven and a half Olympic Stadiums during this summer’s Olympics in London.” And so the work of education reform proceeds onward and upward….